Old motels and hotels could be an answer to house more people

Tracy Vaughn gazes reverently at her temporary home – a tent under a three-sided structure.

“Being here gives you the feeling that I can do this. It gives you hope,” she said.

Vaughn resides at Camp Hope, a transitional living space in Las Cruces, New Mexico. It’s a service that’s in high demand here and across the country.

America is short of more than 200,000 shelter beds to house the number of people who need them.

Nicole Martinez, executive director of Mesilla Valley Community of Hope, which runs the camp, says a lot of state and federal dollars are spent on permanent housing. However, she believes the transitional housing that gets people like Vaughn off the streets while they search is being overlooked.

“With the increasing visibility of people sleeping outdoors, communities are looking for solutions by all means,” she said.

However, says Martinez, while the pandemic has forced many people out of large traditional shelters and onto the streets, there appear to be changes.

His state is now looking to the past as a potential solution as $10 million goes to communities in New Mexico to buy old motels and hotels and turn them into transitional housing.

States across the country like Montana, Washington and Colorado have turned hotels and motels into temporary shelters. Hank Hughes of the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness says this program could mark a shift in state governments recognizing the need for creative and lasting solutions.

“I just think over the years many members of our state legislature have really recognized that homelessness needs to be addressed and so it’s good to see that happening,” Hughes said.

“I think there is room for transitional housing. I would like to make sure there is a pathway to permanent housing,” Martinez said.

As promising as these creative ideas are, Martinez hopes that funding will continue to be channeled towards transitional housing needs and that the focus on the root problem will not be lost.

“I think we all want quick fixes. We want tents gone from our neighborhoods, right? But what we have to remember is that these are people, these are members of our community and that without having enough affordable housing, we’re going to continue to see people in our neighborhoods homeless,” she said.

For people like Vaughn, more transitional housing, whether in old motels or tent cities, means being one step closer to the dream of structure and safety.

“It’s gonna be okay. That’s the biggest thing it’s gonna be okay,” she said.